What a lovely find this was last week amongst Mum’s library! I knew the name of the author thanks to her career as a journalist – she’s been a highly regarded war correspondent – but had no idea she had ventured into fiction. However, this tale is based on solid facts, and as such is refreshingly well researched and detailed in its subject matter, with the added delight of the authors marvellously written conception of how the villagers of Eyam would have been living their lives and engaging with one another during the horrors of the Black Death.
Historical fact – the villagers of Eyam, (pronounced Eem), in Derbyshire, took the heroic decision to quarantine themselves in 1666 when the plague broke out there, and thus stop it from spreading to the surrounding area. It was believed that the infection had arrived in a bolt of cloth from London, and, led by their saintly rector, William Mompesson, they lived, (and died), in isolation for a year, saving the surrounding populations from the disease.
Ms Brooks has taken this information and written a novel around it, seen from the perspective of the central character, Anna, a widowed shepherdess. It is graphical in its detail and accuracy, portraying the terror and the madness that grips the village as well as the acts of heroic compassion performed by individuals. The fictional rector, Michael Mompellion, and his fatally flawed wife Elinor develop a close relationship with Anna, who has lost her husband to a mining accident and her little boys to the plague. Anna herself is refreshingly energetic and forthright, someone you’d be glad to have on your side in a time like this.
Four fifths of the population of Eyam died that year. Their story deserves telling, and this novel does so brilliantly, mixing historical facts with an engaging story line, beautifully drawn characters even when they are horrible characters like Anna’s father and stepmother, and captivating insights into the way we lived and worked in the 17th century. Really well worth reading!
As always, if you would like to have Mum’s copy – she has noted the date Nov ’02 inside the front cover – to add to your bookshelf, please get in touch either here or through the Facebook page and I will be delighted to send it to you as a gift from Mum and I. If someone has already claimed this copy, here is an Amazon link for you to purchase a copy, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!